China’s top general said a fourth North Korean nuclear weapons test is a possibility that underscores the need for fresh talks between Pyongyang and other regional parties.
People’s Liberation Army Chief of the General Staff General Fang Fenghui (房峰輝) said Beijing firmly opposes the North’s nuclear weapons program and wants to work with others on negotiations to end it. He said Beijing’s preference is for a return to long-stalled disarmament talks involving the two Koreas, China, Russia, Japan and the US.
“We ask all sides to work actively to work on the North Koreans to stop nuclear tests and stop producing nuclear weapons,” Fang told reporters. “We believe that dialogue should be the right solution.”
Fang offered no indication as to when Beijing thought a test might happen or give other details.
His comments on Monday followed a meeting with US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Martin Dempsey, whose first visit to China in that position comes amid heightened tensions between Pyongyang, South Korea and the US.
North Korea has been threatening to attack the US and South Korea over recent military drills and sanctions imposed as punishment for its third nuclear test in February. Pyongyang calls the annual drills a rehearsal for invasion. South Korean officials have said the North is poised to test-fire a medium-range missile capable of reaching the US territory of Guam.
China is North Korea’s most important diplomatic ally, main trading partner and a key source of food and fuel aid. Yet while Beijing signed on to tougher UN sanctions following the February test, it says it has limited influence with Pyongyang and Fang declined to say whether Beijing would adopt tougher measures to pressure the North into reducing tensions.
In other remarks, Fang also sought to reassure Dempsey over recent reports of Chinese military-sponsored hacking attacks on US targets, saying China opposed all such activity. The new spotlight on a long-festering problem has prompted calls for Washington to get tough on Beijing, and the US administration is reportedly considering measures ranging from trade sanctions to diplomatic pressure and electronic countermeasures.
Fang repeated China’s portrayal of itself as a major victim of hacking, saying China is heavily reliant on the Internet and has a strong vested interest in ensuring cybersecurity, Fang said.
“If control is lost over security in cyberspace, the effects can be, and I don’t exaggerate, at times no less than a nuclear bomb,” Fang said.
For his part, Dempsey sought to allay Chinese unease about the US military’s renewed focus on Asia. That has reawakened Chinese fears of being encircled by US bases and alliances and brought strong criticism from the Chinese military.
“One of the things I talked about today with the general [Fang Fenghui], is we seek to be a stabilizing influence in the region. And in fact, we believe that it would be our absence that would be destabilizing, not our presence,” Dempsey said.
However, while Washington is committed to building a “better, deeper, more enduring” relationship with China, its traditional alliances in Asia — including with Japan and other China rivals — could at times create friction, he said.
While distrust lingers on both sides, efforts to expand cooperation between the Chinese and US militaries have gained friction in recent months, and new anti-piracy and humanitarian relief drills are planned.